Monday, May 25, 2009

Puzzle News

When I'm not reading or writing kid lit, you'll often find me solving puzzles. Crosswords and logic puzzles are my favorites, but I love any type of puzzle that presents a good challenge. So the last couple of weeks have been especially fun for me, for three reasons:

First, my husband and I entered the 2009 Washington Post Hunt. We didn't do so hot -- we only got three out of five of the basic puzzles, which meant we didn't even have a shot at the Super Ridiculous Impossible End Game Puzzle -- but we had lots of fun trying. And considering that we went it alone, I felt OK about it. They recommend teams of at least four, and now I know why. The more brainpower, the better. The hosts (humor columnist extraordinaires Dave Barry and Gene Weingarten as well as Washington Post Magazine Editor Tom Shroder) estimated only a small percentage of teams solved all five of the basic puzzles, so I don't feel too bad.

Here's me at Post Hunt Ground Zero, posing in front of Dave Barry posing with someone else!

You may be too late for this year's hunt, but you can experience some of the fun (and frustration!) and start preparing for next year by checking out these practice video puzzles. Enjoy!

Second, I visited the Tyson's Corner Barnes & Noble and picked up a copy of The Potato Chip Puzzles by Eric Berlin. Berlin is not only a kid lit author but is also a New York Times crossword constructor, which in my world makes him All Kinds of Awesome. A follow-up to Berlin's debut mystery, The Puzzling World of Winston Breen, his new book proved an even better read, in my opinion. Lots of great puzzles, a great underlying mystery and the same very likeable cast of characters.

Third, I was checking out Berlin's blog this weekend and came across a very cool project he has undertaken. If you love crosswords or would like to get signed copies of his both his books, check it out here. For just $5 you can support his project and receive a suite of nine -- count them, nine! -- crossword puzzles and enter his puzzle contest. (You need to contribute at least $40 to get the books. Well worth the price if you like kid lit mysteries.) Berlin's goal for the project was $1500 and he has already exceeded that. Which is pretty darned cool.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How Buff Is Your Manuscript?

Terrific article today at Writer's Digest offering 5 Easy Tips to Strengthen Your Scenes.

I'm usually pretty skeptical of anyone who says they can offer "easy" tips on anything to do with writing, but these actually look pretty manageable.

My pacing tends to run fast, so I'm looking forward to trying out #3 and #4. And I'm guessing doing #5 would take any manuscript to a whole new level.

Which steps do you need to work on?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Report from the (Resume) Slush Pile

I'm in the process of hiring a sales and marketing manager at my day job. Going through the resumes that have hit my inbox reminds me of the tales I've heard about the kid lit slush pile.

I've received 65 resumes in three days--a sign of the times, for sure. Printed them out and brought them home tonight to review.

My tally:
  • 12 Yes
  • 33 Maybe
  • 20 No
I'll start calling the yeses tomorrow. Those that got a no will hit the circular file, and I'll hang on to the maybes in case none of the yeses work out.

What influenced my decision to accept or reject?

Many of those I rejected simply didn't fit the bill for this job. They were way underqualified, or way overqualified, or required a salary beyond the range we posted in our employment ad. They "weren't right for our list," as it were.

Many of those I rejected didn't follow my submission guidelines. In the ad, I asked for a cover letter, a resume and salary requirements. Frankly, I expected a lot of folks to skip the salary requirements, but it's surprising how many of them failed to include a simple cover letter. (Unless you count one woman's email note: "Enjoy!" Enjoy? That's the entire body of your email and you think I'm going to want to open your resume?) Bottom line: If you don't care enough to follow directions and put a little effort into your application, why should I want to hire you? And ... hello? This is a marketing job. If you can't market yourself, how are you going to market my organization?

Some of those I rejected had careless typos in their cover letters or resumes, or their grammar was terrible, or their writing was so over-the-top (sparkle and savvy ... really? You have both sparkle and savvy?) that I just couldn't see working with them. This job doesn't require a lot of writing, but you do need to be able to communicate intelligently.

I wish those who weren't right for the job had targeted their submissions better. It would have saved me some time tonight. But honestly, I'm glad those who were too lazy to follow directions and those who had typos or poor grammar skills showed their warts right up front. With 65 resumes, I was looking for reasons to throw them into the rejection pile, and those people gave me plenty.

Now, let's hope one of those 12 yeses turns out to be "the one." And let's hope the interviewing, hiring and training process doesn't take anywhere near as long as it takes to review, acquire and publish a manuscript!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Stonewall Hinkleman on Location

It is my great pleasure and honor to host the first stop of a week-long blog tour for the newly released Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run!

When my buddy Sam Riddleburger, who co-authored the book along with Michael Hemphill, first asked whether I would participate in their tour, my first thought was, Woohoo! I love that book! My second thought was, What the heck am I gonna write? I've already reviewed it once.

(For those of you who are not familiar with the book, long story short: It's about a very likable kid with the unfortunate name of Stonewall Traveler Hinkleman whose parents are major Civil War buffs and who gets dragged along to their Civil War reenactments every weekend. As Stonewall says, the reenactments are really cool ... when you're six. When you're practically a teenager, it's boring. That is, until our hero finds himself transported back to the actual Battle of Bull Run, where he finds the fate of the country lies in his hands and so he ... well, you'll have to read the book to find out what he does.)

So anyway, for my tour stop, I decided to take Stonewall Hinkleman and Company on a little field trip to the site of the Battle of Bull Run, Manassas National Battlefield.

A very nice park volunteer who would identify himself only as "Snake" checks out my copy of Stonewall.

Stonewall rolls his eyes at the statue of General Thomas Jackson, sitting astride his horse like a ... a stone wall! Why couldn't General Bee have blurted out a much cooler nickname, like Rock? or Hammer? or Lone Wolf?

Lest that last photo leave you thinking the park's statue of the great Stonewall Jackson is kind of puny, here is a close-up, with me holding the book for scale. Check out the dude's pecs. As one passer-by commented, "He must have worked out."

Thus ends the field trip and the first stop on Stonewall's tour.

For details on the rest of the tour, including a cool contest where you can win some Stonewall- and Dial Books-related goodies, check out Sam's Web site.

To buy the book (and if you like Civil War stuff, or time travel, or kids with attitude, or just plain fun reading, you really should buy the book), check it out here on Amazon.

Update: Oops, my bad! As Sam mentions in the comments, the key to winning the goodies is to send an email to with "Stonewall Contest" as your subject line. Good luck!